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Thinking Things

The Inadvertent Wall Street Wake-Up Call


Thanks for reminding us what we’re up against and how far we have to go.
 
In the days since reading Holly Finn’s cynical and scathing assessment of the meetings and conventions industry in  The Wall Street Journal, my mood has changed from outrage to anger to frustration to hunger (it was dinner time) to concern and then to excitement and exhilaration. Ms. Finn basically tore apart our industry, painting us as a bunch of Good Time Charlies who like to spend lavishly, party endlessly, and think, learn and network less than occasionally.
 
But it was a wake-up call to action and to opportunity, for which I am grateful. Let me explain.
 
What Ms. Finn’s misinformed diatribe reminded me was that we are most effective only at talking among ourselves. Years ago, I used to attend regularly the Travel Industry Unity Dinner, an annual black-tie Pat on the Back to remind us how important we are. And we are important, even by today’s standards: the meetings industry generates 1.7 million U.S. jobs, $263 billion in direct spending, and makes a $106 billion contribution to the GDP, according to landmark research conducted two years ago by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
 
Yet we are not so effective communicating our message to Ms. Finn’s world – the one outside the meetings industry, including the author herself. So disadvantaged are we that The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t even acknowledge or publish the intelligent and eloquent response to Ms. Finn crafted by Convention Industry Council CEO Karen Kotowski. Probably would have spoiled their fun  -- facts tend to have that effect. Regardless, the CIC’s actions speak louder than any words – they are the overseers of the Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) program, helping to send 14,000 highly qualified “ambassadors” into the field elevating the status of our profession, serving as liaisons with executives, and ensuring outcomes and ROI for stakeholders.
 
Roger Rickard and Roger Dow are two major league advocates who come to mind for pounding the DC pavement and industry circuit tirelessly declaring meetings as an industry onto itself and as essential business and marketing tools when developed and implemented properly. To the meetings delegates in Ms. Finn’s “party-now” universe, if you or your approving managers can’t validate the relevance, expense and potential return of going to a meeting, do us a favor and don’t go. Similarly, if organizations can’t validate the relevance, expense and potential return of holding a conference in the first place, then for goodness sake don’t hold it!
 
Ms. Finn’s article is an unscheduled but important wake-up call reminding us that we need to work harder to get people to understand the value of what we do. I, for one, plan to support the efforts of our industry leaders by keeping the conversation going on social media and joining “extended” industry groups both live and online (marketing executives, C-suite, procurement managers) to initiate dialogue beyond our traditional borders. As VP of Education for MPI’s Greater New York Chapter, I will do all I can to establish forums that help meetings professionals understand how to be heard in executive offices, thus taking their perceived and real value beyond logistics and into the realm of strategy and goals.
 
Has progress already been made? Sure. A General Services Administration scandal that uncovered excessive spending of taxpayer dollars at a meeting is only two years in the past. Yet, as Ms. Finn points out, there were 750 government-held conferences this year. What she doesn’t point out is that maybe, just maybe, the business reasons for those meetings outweighed any concern over the perceptions they would arouse – so much so that, even after the GSA mess, those groups held their events anyway knowing the scrutiny they would face.
 
We have an enormous task at hand but also an enormous opportunity. We need the trade press to sound the trumpets. We need to penetrate the general business media. We must continue the dialogue, spread the word, extend our professional comfort zones, and implore our peers to take part. Then and only then will we be able to raise the bar of awareness, silence the critics, and educate important voices like Holly Finn. Being able some day to refer to her as an advocate for our business would be a sweet victory indeed.

8 Comments to The Inadvertent Wall Street Wake-Up Call:

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Richter on Thursday, March 21, 2013 7:02 AM
Jim makes a good point, which can be applied to many fields - not just ours. We need to constantly promote the value of what we provide. If we do not, we risk being seen as simply a commodity throwaway service. Another observation about the original WSJ article. For all the reaction it stirred up among those of us who make meetings and events work, it has received just one online comment in the WSJ forums (as of 8a 3/21)
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thom singer on Friday, March 22, 2013 5:48 AM
With 1.7 million of us who are part of the Meetings Industry, one would think we could get the message out to the world. The problem is that outside of the planners, hoteliers, and DMOs, .... too few of us who contribute to making this industry spectacular sing the praises of the business. We need to all be loud and proud to be part of this important industry.
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John Nawn on Friday, March 22, 2013 8:48 AM
i agree w/ you jim. the article is a wake-up call and reminder we need to extend the dialog to the kind of business leaders who read the Wall Street Journal. But it's not about how many folks we employ or how much spending we generate, those are by-products of meetings and events. After all, are we in the business of creating jobs and generating tax revenue? We're in the performance improvement business. The real value proposition of meetings and events is how much better off someone or some organization is as a result of meeting face-to-face. The answer to the question, 'What's the business value of your meeting or event?' can easily be answered. What's most interesting to me is why more meeting professionals (or other stakeholders) don't even bother.
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Vanessa Kane, CMP, CMM on Friday, March 22, 2013 1:44 PM
I, too agree with Jim. We needed to be reminded how important our role as meeting professionals is to business in general. I have been a planner 30+ years and many people still make the remark they think planners are automatically 'party planners'. I'm proud to be part of this amazing industry and to be considered one of the 'best jobs'! The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects meeting, convention, and event planner employment growth of 43.7 percent between 2010 and 2020, adding 31,300 more jobs. Favorable job prospects help this profession rank No. 66. We need to say it often and loud how important meetings are and our roles we play in those meetings.
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Charlotte Davis, CMP on Friday, March 22, 2013 2:49 PM
Thank again Jim for "beating the drum" and as noted in your title sharing this "wake up call"! I agree that the only way our industry will survive as part of this continued negative press is by continuing to respond with meetings that showcase the positives of our industry and then educating the public how we have taken these past experiences and have used them in order to service them better.
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Kristi Sanders on Wednesday, March 27, 2013 4:32 PM
Jim and I will be participating in a G+ Hangout on Air tomorrow at 1pm ET discussing how "Meeting Professionals Aren't Party Planners" - you can view live (I'll post the link prior to broadcast) and RSVP here: https://plus.google.com/events/ceoo1alna5ps8gfi43bfpv8i58g Or view it on demand on the Plan Your Meetings YouTube channel during or after the event: http://www.youtube.com/planyourmeetings
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Chris Meyer on Thursday, March 28, 2013 12:01 PM
Thanks Jim for pointing out what our industry needs a good kick in the pants. We here in Las Vegas have been actively ringing this bell for many years. More importantly we have been doing something about it. While everyone likes to talk about what we should do. We ( Las Vegas) are doing it. Not only that, we are sharing activities and best practices, guiding and training not only our stake holders but also other industry groups. The time for advice. IE " We should do this or we should do" that time has passed now is the time to engage everyone you have contact with about the power of face to face. Advocacy means doing what you say! Roger Rickard & Roger Dow knows what we mean. So make the effort get off of your duff and be an advocate for our industry.
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Kendra McMurray, CMP on Wednesday, April 03, 2013 11:11 AM
Thank you! I was just speaking with the CEO of our small, gov't contracting firm and we were sharing the irony of those (both in the government and private sector) bashing our industry as they meeting F2F over dinners :) I am well versed and well read but my real rewards come from networking and sharing ideas with my peers in person. It certainly does get the creative juices flowing when you're in a room for hundreds of industry professionals working toward similar goals. I'm a mentor and mentee; 99% of our interactions and idea sessions occur F2F. I, too, am proud to be a part of this industry. I will be speaking as a part of a career panel to Masters Degree level Event Management/Tourism Program candidates in the next day about the future of our industry. These are students who already hold undergraduate degrees and jobs and realize the value in what we (and they) do. It certainly doesn't take a rocket scientist to plan a meeting or large convention but it does a trained professional to design/plan the programming and coordinate logistics for a meeting targeting "rocket scientists" so that these engineers are able to come together to share ideas, advance their knowledge, and ultimately change the world we live in. There you go...meeting and event professionals change the world!
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